Zambian NGOs in confusion

President Banda signed the NGO bill on Thursday

President Banda signed the NGO bill on Thursday

The civil society is still too confused to react to the law that was passed to regulate them.

Email intercepted by the Watchdog highlights the level of confusion in the NGOs.

Besides, some NGOs have turned on others accusing them of betrayal.

One NGO head complained that the NGO that were tasked to represent the civil society did not do a good job.

The NGO accuses the four NGOs that were in the front negotiating with government of excluding others.

But now that the law has been passed, the NGOs are a calling for unity in deciding the way forward.

Some NGOs want a confrontational approach and to this effect, the Watchdog has been informed that NGOs plan to hold demonstrations next week on Friday.

Reuben Lifuka, the President of the Zambian chapter of Transparency International said in an email to his colleagues that the only thing they can now do is try to amend the law.

“Unfortunately at this stage, it is out of the hands of the President and our only remedy is to seek for appropriate amendments to the law. What is strange is that Government has elected to keep quiet on the presidential assent and yet there is a timeframe within which all NGOs have to register and one wonders when the counting of 90 days begins. Is it when the Registrar of NGOs is formally appointed or when the Board of Registration is appointed?

“Other additional points of concern have to do with the preparation of the Code of Conduct, the NGO Act as it stands, indicates that the first 12 registered NGOs will form the Council and it is this body that will prepare the Code of Conduct for all NGOs in Zambia, said Lifuka in an email to other NGO representatives.

He expressed fear that the government will take over the operations of NGO using underhand methods.

He said:

“My sense is that Government has already registered Government Owned NGOs (GONGOs) and Politician Owned NGOs (PONGOs) and it is these that will assume the responsibility for preparing the Code of Conduct for allof us.

“There is no provision in the law for disclosure on who the first 12 registered NGOs are and there is nothing that obliges Government to provide this information.

“Lastly, the Act does not provide for the Treasury to meet the costs of holding the Congress of NGOs and this begs the question- who will be responsible for convening of the first Congress? If it is Government, I do not see them calling for this Congress until next year and what this implies in the meantime, is that NGOs will not be able to elect their representatives on the Board of Registration and by extension, the Board of Registration cannot be constituted within the stipulated 90 days for NGOs to register themselves. Unless Government is going to have a Board made up of Government appointees carrying out the function of registration of NGOs.

“Clearly there is still a lot of mist on this law and it is confusing to many of us.

“My proposal is that we should seek an audience with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare to raise practical issues on the enforcement of the new law. At the same time, advocacy should continue to have appropriate amendments to this law.

“Forgive me for being frank- partly this Bill has gone through Parliament because our advocacy as NGOs has been non-existent. We have been too apologetic for the role we play as NGOs and Government took advantage of this meekness,” observed Lifuka

And Malambo Moonga, the Programme Officer Training and Research at Women for Change says the law is meant to stop NGOs from speaking out on national issues.
“This law has been passed and the timing of its ascension is intended, inter alia,  to pull the rag from under our feet as we pursue urgent national issues (such as the Chiluba case and the fight against corruption). Our detractors will gladly co-exist with a panicked, uncertain and divided civil society.

“So let us avoid this trap by being UNITED, RESOLUTE and PROACTIVE for a change. As the GONGOs and PONGOs emerge to support this law and stake their claim we need to be moving pushing for its amendment. The
biggest threat to achieving this, in my opinion, is internal to us, i.e losing our formation and being reduced to desperate, panicked units,” said Moonga in response to Lifuka’s ideas.

The law as it stands now gives the Minister of Community Development powers to appoint an NGO Board and Council that will be deciding on which NGOs and Civil Society are registered.

The NGO act also compels NGOs and civil society organisations to declare and reveal their sources of funding and also requires  all NGO officers declare their assets like politicians such as Ministers.

The law also compels NGOs to remain in sectors and communities on which they registered.

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